It happens all the time in business. I personally have seen it in my consulting practice a lot. It can show up in the form of a supervisor’s frustration with a direct report when an expectation is not met. Sometimes it is because the message from the boss was not clear, but other times – well things just fell apart for some reason. In my practice I have seen both sides of the issue. The boss has a specific outcome and/or expectation in mind and their direct report is working hard, but not necessarily on the things that are important to the boss and the bigger picture. The employee wonders why their boss is not thrilled with their performance and outcomes. It’s because the boss wants a “peach” and the employee is delivering a “pear”. Of course, I am speaking metaphorically, but I think you get my meaning.
The issue stems, in part, from a lack of clarity on priorities, emphasis, attention, and values. Understanding priorities in a time when things change rapidly can be difficult. However, it is not always a lack of clarity of priorities, but a failure of alignment about how much attention to pay to a particular project. For example, I worked with an organization that had an established partnership with another company. The relationship in the partnership was not equal (much like a supervisor supervisee relationship). There were certain deliverables that were important to the satellite partner, but the funding for most of the project came from their partner. The satellite partner continued to pay attention to the things that were important to them – to their peril. It showed up in the form of paying close attention to the things that held meaning to them – rather than fully understanding and giving attention and showing results around the things that the funding partner valued. The satellite partner kept putting their attention and emphasis on the wrong things and eventually the partnership ended.
The supervisor/supervisee relationship is a partnership of sorts, and alignment is important, but not always easy to achieve. Spending all your time on perfection when just good enough is ok will not necessarily win you additional points in the eyes of your boss – even if you are working hard. It can be just as deadly as not paying attention to perfection when it is important to your boss. You might want to ask yourself are you giving your boss a pear when he/she really wants a peach?